LGTB* Fiction Books for a YA Audience
Review of ‘This Book is Gay’
Written by James Dawson. Published by Hot Key Books. ISBN 9781471403958.
This timely book is not subtle; its rainbow coloured cover is as bold as its title. The author, James Dawson, himself a gay man, writes with clarity and wit about being an LGTB*-curious person. He covers all the various labels, while reminding us that not all labels suit all people, and that we should never feel obligated to conform to any defined identity that doesn’t feel right or comfortable.
Click on cover or title links to purchase.
‘This Book is Gay’ doesn’t need to be read cover to cover, but starts with definitions of some of the terms. At the end of the acronym LGTB, Dawson always adds an asterisk, reflecting his belief that for some people, none of these words are applicable. I liked the way he included ‘asexual’, although once he defines it and acknowledges it as a legitimate sexual identity, he pretty much ignores it for the rest of the book—because it’s really all about sex.
While Dawson does make a distinction between sexual identity and gender identity, he focuses much more on the latter. Although the information is vast and wide-ranging, several themes are repeated, positive themes that reinforce Dawson’s belief that gay people deserve the same as everyone, that there are people and agencies to support them, and that what others think matters little. It’s inspiring.
When I say the book is ‘about sex’, I accept there will be parental bells ringing, and teacher alarms going off, and I understand why. I know what it is to agonise over a decision about whether to add a particularly controversial book to a library collection. I don’t even know if ‘This Book is Gay’ will make it to mine. So what is in it about sex? There is a chapter called ‘the ins and out of gay sex’, which is fairly graphic, but it is not exploitative or titillating in any way. Dawson remains factual and neutral, and at times even funny (but I can’t find any quotes that are both funny and not too rude for this review or for Megan), but here’s something I never thought about: In Britain, children are provided with sex education in Year 6, but until recently the law forbade teachers from including any reference to homosexual practices. If you really think about that, it’s no wonder gay people feel alienated and marginalised.
But this is not a place to get on a soap box. It’s a review about a well-written, very informative book that would be extremely useful for any teenager who was interested in what it might mean to be gay, lesbian, transgender or asexual, or any other identity across the queer spectrum. ‘This Book is Gay’ provides a glossary of terms, a list of support services for the UK, and some hilarious cartoon illustrations that help to alleviate all the heavy, sobering thoughts the content offers. Most importantly, Dawson includes a large of number of stories from LGTB* people from all over the world, from short quotes, to long detailed stories that share their hardships, the triumphs, and their everyday anecdotes.
I learnt a lot, I laughed a little, and sometimes I got a little mad at the world for its continued mis-treatment of anyone who might be interested in someone of the same sex. But it is very clearly a text that wants to assist and therefore it doesn’t mince words or avoid uncomfortable issues – HIV infection, age of consent, M2F surgery – it’s all there. I don’t want to turn anyone off this book, but nor do I want to sugar-coat it for you. It’s funny to think that as a cis white straight (old!) woman, I am not anywhere in the target audience of ‘This Book is Gay’, but I am in a position where I can deny those who are, access. So, there’s something to think about. Sorry to get all deep on you. Moving on.
I have read many LGTB* fiction books for a young adult audience, and Megan has asked me to include some recommendations for you. My pinterest page on this topic is here. Most of these books have LGTB teenagers as the main characters. There are many, many more where gays and lesbians are secondary or minor characters, and both representations are essential if we are to offer young adults diversity in fiction #diversityinya (there is a hashtag, and a website here),
The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson Published January 2015 by Simon Pulse
Simon versus the Homo Sapiens agenda by Becky Albertalli published in March 2015
Hold me closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan published in March 2015
I worry that these are all about gay boys, and feel I am letting down the #diversityinya hashtag. So, in the interests of balance and fairness, I also offer you these recommendations. One of the best 2014 LBGT* books, starring a lesbian was Everything leads to you by Nina LeCour, and the best book about transitioning that I have read was Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristen Cronn-Mills (2012). Marco Possible by Hannah Moskowitz (2013) is suitable appropriate for younger teens (12 to 14 yr olds), as are Tim Federle’s pair about a boy from small town Pennsylvania, who finds a way to be part of a broadway show, Better Nate than Ever (2013), and Five, Six, Seven, Nate (2014). If you are looking for controversial, try Adam by Ariel Schrag, and if you want Australian, you can’t go past Lily Wilkinson’s Pink.